Yesterday, I spent a couple of very enjoyable hours at the RSA in London talking with Pete Burden. In a post entitled, “Understanding leadership and management differently” he had been fulsome in his support of my “10 much-needed shifts in the way that we understand and talk about leadership”. In light of this, we were knocking around a few thoughts on how such shifts in the patterns of people’s understanding might come to be adopted more widely – especially given the pressures on managers to account for their practice in terms that reflect the dominant management discourse.
Like the photographs in magazines that present an impossibly perfect impression of the human form, this airbrushed view of organization bears little resemblance to managers’ everyday lived reality. Yet it persists. Judging by many of the most popular posts in LinkedIn Pulse and elsewhere, there is little sign of this changing anytime soon. As Pete suggested in his later post, “Facing the Fear?”, the thought of ‘not knowing’ (or, perhaps, being seen not to know) tethers managers to the language and assumptions of certainty, predictability, and control. This then perpetuates the myth, which continues to contaminate their own and others’ practice.
Waking people up
With this in mind, I spoke about a visit I’d made just before Christmas to the Museo Picasso Málaga. Picasso was also concerned with shifting the ways in which people constructed reality. Written on the wall of one of the galleries was the following quotation, as recorded in André Malraux’s book, Picasso’s Mask (1976):
“You have to wake people up. To revolutionize their way of identifying things. You’ve got to create images they won’t accept. Make them foam at the mouth. Force them to understand that they’re living in a pretty queer world. A world that’s not reassuring. A world that’s not what they think it is.”
So, as Picasso says, we’re living in a pretty queer world. Odd, even. A world which doesn’t operate in neat straight lines. An asymmetrical world.
‘All’ we need to do now, then, is to “wake people up”, so that they become consciously aware of what they already know deep down and that they begin to identify what they’re doing in ways that more closely reflect their actual, lived experience.
Picasso usefully identifies “foaming at the mouth” as a key performance indicator that we can look for as we continue our quest! Perhaps the blog post that I published in Informal Coalitions in June 2014, entitled “The ‘beautiful, ugly truth’… of organization and management”, is one that might provoke such a response in some.